Brandon Barber Co-Defendant Found Not Guilty, Discharged

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The Rogers attorney accused of conspiring with convicted fraud suspect Brandon Barber was found not guilty Wednesday in federal court, according to court records.

A jury in federal court in Fort Smith found David Fisher not guilty of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Immediately after the verdict was announced, Judge PK Holmes signed a judgment of acquittal discharging Fisher and exonerating his bond, court records show.

Fisher was charged earlier this year with conspiring with Barber, a former Northwest Arkansas developer, in a cheme to collect excess money from fraudulent loans on area properties. An indictment accused Fisher of lying to First Federal Bank in order to obtain loans over the actual value of the properties the loans were obtained to purchase. Excess money from the loans was then distributed among the defendants, the indictment claims.

Fisher faced a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines, according to U.S. Attorney Conner Eldridge’s Office. He pleaded not guilty in October to the charges against him.

Barber, 37, was arrested in March in connection with a years-long investigation by federal agencies into fraud and money laundering allegations, whose potential maximum prison times for the 27 fraud counts could have put Barber behind bars for the rest of his life. Prosecutors, the FBI and the IRS had accused Barber of declaring bankruptcy in 2009 after racking up $200 million in loans, then hid assets from the courts and creditors during the bankruptcy process.

Barber reached a deal with prosecutors in July where he pleaded guilty to three criminal counts, while the other 24 were dismissed, giving Barber a maximum possibility of 45 years behind bars.

Three other men charged in the fraud scheme also pleaded guilty over the last few months. Jeff Whorton, the owner of Whorton Construction in Northwest Arkansas, made several real estate purchases with Barber and faced one count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud in a case involving engaging in alleged fraudulent transactions against the area’s First Federal Bank.

He pleaded guilty in August to the two counts against him.

James Van Doren was ordered to forfeit $22,000 to the government after he pleaded guilty the same month to one count of money laundering while admitting to helping Barber hide assets while the developer was going through bankruptcy proceedings in 2008, according to federal court documents.

Less than a decade ago, Barber, then in his 20s, was one of the most sought-after developers in the Northwest Arkansas. He founded the Barber Group in Springdale and tackled several high-profile area projects such as the Legacy Building and the Bellafont condominiums in Fayetteville. He even proposed the 15-story Divinity Hotel in Fayetteville in 2006.

At the height of his local career, Barber would throw lavish parties at a hangar at the Springdale Municipal Airport, inviting hundreds of guests at a time.

Court records show that as the money flowed, Barber took on massive debt, taking out millions of dollars in loans from local banks. Litigation from the financial institutions ensued, and years later, several court cases by banks and area entities against Barber remained unresolved, according to Washington County Circuit Court records.

In debt and collecting lawsuits, Barber filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, but was accused of hiding his assets from creditors. A year later, he was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated for the second time in recent years, police records show. His development company also filed for bankruptcy, and he moved to New York.

Brandon Rains pleaded guilty last week to one count of making false statements to federal authorities. In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to drop the other charges against Rains, including  one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and one count of money laundering, according to federal court documents.

By reaching a deal, Rains avoids his previous possible maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Instead, he could face five years in prison and a quarter-million-dollar fine, according to court records. No sentencing date has been scheduled for Rains.

Rains was a project manager for the Barber-managed Barber Group. In 2007, Rains was named one of the 40 most intriguing business and political leaders under 40 years old in the Northwest Arkansas Journal.

When questioned by the FBI in 2011, Rains initially denied pocketing a kickback in a $100,000 real estate scheme in Springdale in 2008. The suspect’s guilty plea admits he knew he was lying to federal investigators.

Rains faces the possibility of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to court records.